February 18, 2004 – Haircut in a foreign language

What a productive day! I slept late, picked up my dry cleaning, got pictures developed, got my hair cut, watched an hour of Simpsons, cleaned my room and washed my dishes immediately after using them (for a change).

(2014 update)

Upon preparing this entry for publishing 10 years later, I notice that I have not yet explained the terrifying experience of getting your hair cut in a foreign language. It is something definitely worth more than the few words that I used in my original post.

My hair is very annoying. It doesn’t grow long like most people, it just gets thick and poofy. While growing up I have had several people suggest that I grow and epic white guy fro, but that’s not going to happen. In order to prevent the fro, I usually need to get my hair cut every 4-6 weeks, with 8 weeks being the absolute maximum. I got my hair cut ridiculously short before leaving Canada, but a few months after arriving I was badly in need of a haircut.

I asked some of the guys in Hello House if they had any recommendations for a good place to get a haircut. Most people suggested a barber shop near Mukogaoka-yuen station, and I also got a few suggestions to buy my own clippers and just cut my own hair. Since I didn’t trust my ability to cut my own hair without turning my tatami mat into a hair carpet, I decided to test my Japanese skills at the barber shop.

At the barber shop there was exactly one person who spoke English – me. I got into the chair and was asked a question which I assume was “what kind of haircut would you like”. I had some instructions prepared, but forgot them all in the moment and managed to say “zenbu mijikai” (everything short) while making a confusing gesture around my head. The barber responded in Japanese by confirming that I wanted a really short haircut (probably). I agreed and proceeded to get a military quality buzz cut.

Having someone cut your hair when you can’t fully communicate is a scary experience. Having someone cut your hair when they have never before worked with hair the same colour or texture as yours is even scarier. As scary as this was for me, it was worse for women who can’t speak Japanese. Many of my female coworkers would go very long times between haircuts, and then would only get their hair done in a very expensive salon where someone could speak English.

I did get better at communicating with barbers over my time in Japan, but always got really short haircuts because it was the easiest thing to do. If you are planning on spending an extended time in Japan, plan ahead for your hair cutting needs.

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  1. 6 months in Japan – State of the Union | Drinking in Japan
  2. November 2005 – Vivian gets a cell phone | Drinking in Japan

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